Wednesday, February 23, 2011

This Ain’t Your Grandma’s Public School Education

How the Unions Have Failed the Public Schools
It’s hard to miss the constant news coverage about the teachers unions in Wisconsin, Ohio, and Indiana etc.  I know I haven’t been able to escape it since I work from home and I have the news on all day in the background. But besides that I also take a personal interest in educational issues since I decided to educate my own children 10 years ago.  At first this interest was more to justify my decision than anything else, but now I admit – I do it to gloat a little.  You see my lazy, X-Box and MySpace addicted, no bedtime, no parental controls kids have thrived under my homeschool regime.  They are both excellent readers and one is even somewhat of a math whiz – though he tells me everyday how much he hates algebra.  At least he gets the right answers, which is more than I did in junior high.

When I look back on my own public school education I also admit that I can’t really think of a bad teacher – sure some of them were weird and some of them a little obsessive in a matriarchal nun sort of way, but I can honestly say they all knew how to teach. 

I knew above all else that my teacher’s in Lake County, Ohio were in school to make me learn whether I wanted to or not.  If it weren’t for the fact that I moved to California halfway through junior year it is possible that I would not have a single bad experience to recall about my public school teachers.

You see, I had an excellent public school education.  From nasty Mrs. Sowards in 6th grade to quirky Mr. Engle in 10th – they all rocked my little educational world.  They taught me everything I needed to know.  Which was a really good thing because when I got to California things took a bad turn.  I might even go as far to say those people were worthless. 

Even though I was far from honor role material when I entered my 11th grade English class at Escondido High, I was a full year ahead of those poor saps.  On top of that I was balled out by the teacher for having the nerve to choose Cannery Row as my novel for Right to Read Week.  Clearly , she said loud enough for all to hear, it was over my head and the only reason I choose the book was for its lack of thickness. This just pissed me off because anyone who knew me knew I was always a reader and I chose Cannery Row because I hadn’t read it yet, not because it was skinny.  I actually prefer thick books myself.

At any rate – I managed to keep my mouth shut that day, being the new girl and all it doesn’t do to make enemies so quickly.  But I returned the next day With Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.  I actually had read that book before but you know – shock treatments and motorcycles were my kind of topic.  I flashed it to the “teacher” and told her I found a suitable replacement.  She shut the hell up after that.

From there I went to two other California high schools as I moved around from parent to parent, finally settling at Anaheim High School where Mrs. Who-Gives-A Crap gave me a C just because I had a tattoo and talked to the skinhead girl who sat next to me.  What was I supposed to do?  The whole school was Vietnamese and Mexican, hell they even had the announcements in Vietnamese.  She spoke my language, was friendly, and had a fringe – which I had never seen in Ohio!  I lost my temper with that teacher but she never did take back that C.  I was probably the most educated person in that room.

Then there was the fact that I was 2 years ahead at Anaheim Unified but – they explained patiently to me – I had taken too many math classes before 11th grade.  And even though I had completed Geometry (barely but hey) in the 10th grade it didn’t count because it was not in 11th or 12th grade and that was their “policy”.  Ditto for science.  So even though I was two years ahead now I still had to go to night school if I wanted a diploma.

I agreed and completed a semester of science at night (took me 2 months and it was open book) and took an additional semester during the day along with “consumer math” just to get that lousy piece of paper.  I also had to take Driver’s Ed because that was another “policy”.  All three of those teachers made me the “teacher aid” and had me grading papers.

I also worked in the office and the library because you see I didn’t need a full day’s worth of classes but they couldn’t just let me go home when I was finished – I was stuck there for the duration because that was another “policy”.  I should have been on the payroll if you ask me.

Flash forward to my own children’s education and we find my daughter graduating 6th grade on the honor roll.  That was the year we moved to Fort Collins in Colorado so I could finish my BS degree.  So she started junior high there.

Do you recall that she was on the honor role the year before?  She had a signed letter from our State Representative congratulating her on her achievements.  Funny thing though – when I pulled her out of school for homeschool a few weeks into 7th grade year (after a parent entered the school and tried to beat up a student in her class) I found out she had never even  memorized her times tables. 

How could a child who had never learned what 5x9 is be on the honor role?

I found out a lot more about my daughter’s public school education from that point on and decided that my son would be educated the way I was – because the public school education I received and the public school education my daughter received - were not the same thing.

Those of you who don’t know Lake County, Ohio (where I received my free education) might try and justify this with neighborhood environment.  And hey, maybe that’s true for Anaheim High – but my daughter was educated in Wheat Ridge, Colorado – not a high society neighborhood by any means – but certainly just as blue collar and middle class as Willowick, Ohio.

So back to my original point about teachers unions.  Back to the days when I felt I had to justify my homeschooling decision with statistics and whatnot…back 10 years ago, before I had a graduate degree and owned my own business…back when I was arguing with public school teachers about how the system was failing our kids and how school choice and charter schools were the answer.

And I ask you – where do we find ourselves today?  Having this same FREAKING discussion.  And while I was taking action, while I took full responsibility for my children’s education, while I spent tens of thousands of dollars on educational materials and easily the equivalent number of hours teaching – the public schools are still failing our students!  Isn’t anyone else TIRED of this conversation yet?  It makes me want to SCREAM!

So while the teachers bitch and moan about their freaking benefits, parents are being held hostage by their Unions.  And if the Unions represented kids (and they don’t – just read their mission statement – it only represent the interests of TEACHERS), and weren't so worried about their PENSIONS, then they’d allow school choice, merit pay, and charters to take over where they have failed.

And my apologies to those of you who still live in Lake County, Ohio and have children who receive the same excellent public school education that we did when we were young – you are lucky if you do; most of the country is stuck with Mrs. Who-Gives-A Crap because she’s got TENURE and this AIN’T YOUR GRANDMA’S FREAKING PUBLIC SCHOOL EDUCATION ANYMORE!


Unknown said...

School took a turn for the worse many, many years ago. It seems to continually spiral downward despite the desperate attempts to fix their mistakes. One of the main problems is trying new "fad" ideas too often, not letting teacher's teach the basics, spending way too much time teaching the test, too many kids in a classroom, teachers who don't care anymore (not all are that way at all, but there are too many), unqualified teachers, lack of discipline...

Homeschooling is much more advantageous for my daughter, and I am an ex-teacher. :)

A homeschool Mom who enjoys blogging. Our favorite eighth grade curriculum.

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